From Diane: When I posted (ad nauseum) about my outline process recently, friend and fellow author, Therese Fowler, piped in to say that she never outlines. I thought it would be fun to hear how Therese works so well without a net. I’ve read Souvenir–a poignant and beautifully crafted story–and look forward to reading Reunion. Having just ditched most of my outline now that my characters have taken over, I’m going to pay special attention to Therese’s process. Welcome, Therese!
Before I dig in to the topic of this post, I want to thank Diane for inviting me to guest-blog here at her place in concert with the publication of my second novel, Reunion, which went on sale this week! My first, Souvenir, came out last year and is now out in trade paperback. It’s been a treat to see it shelved literally around the corner of Target’s Breakout Books display rack from Diane’s Book Club pick The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes.
Compared to Diane, I’m pretty wet behind the ears, so it’s really interesting to get her perspective on things. During a recent episode of “shop talk,” I mentioned how impressed I am with Diane’s extensive pre-writing process. She’s described it for you here–the detailed, lengthy synopses that demand so much of her time and energy. It amazes me that she can work out an entire story ahead of time, because my method is pretty much exactly the opposite!
I write mainstream/women’s fiction, which means I don’t have a prescribed word count and I’m not following a genre “formula.” When I start a new novel, I’m working from little more than the parameters of the sorts of stories I like to write: a combination of elements that includes family drama, a love story or romantic sub-plot, the examination of a moral/ethical issue and a question of what’s right in a given situation. My last proposal, which was the basis of my current two-book contract, was a page-and-a-half long. My proposal for Reunion was about the same. Considering that my manuscripts come in at +/- 100,000 words, let me tell you, it’s a tall order to make sure I get all those words in a comprehensive order and delivered to my editor on time.
So why don’t I outline, and how do I write those 100k words in the correct order and on time? Good questions! I sometimes wonder the same things myself!
I always begin a new work with two things: a situation, and a primary character or two. Just by thinking it through and journaling a bit, I discover a general starting point and ending point of the story. With Souvenir, I knew I was crafting a tragic but ultimately redemptive love story–but the nature of the tragedy and how it played out were details that emerged only after I’d begun. In short: I had to write the story to find it. This, then, is probably why I can’t outline a story. I don’t know my characters well enough at the beginning to be able to say what they’ll do–and what they’ll do is what creates the plot. It’s only after I’ve written fifty or eighty pages that I begin to see the way my subconscious is creating connections. From there, I can further refine my characters, and when I do that, I can see what they might do next, given the situation I’ve established for them.
For me, crafting a story is, in essence, the process of creating and recognizing a series of diminishing possibilities that lead to an inevitable conclusion. However, using this method means that I have to be three things: 1) a good self-editor, 2) willing to start over as often as necessary until I find the right opening [which I do, sometimes discarding 50-100 pages], and 3) an efficient, fast writer. Fortunately, I seem to be all of those things, which I think is the answer to how I can work this way and also produce a book each year. Honestly, I’ve always been this kind of writer. In college, my essays and term papers were written seemingly off-the-cuff (and usually right before they were due)–and yet I still managed to graduate with a 4.0 GPA. It’s not because I’m brilliant; rather, it’s because I know what works for me and I’ve learned how to make the most of it.
I think it’s so cool that although we go about it differently, Diane and I both create multi-layered, suspenseful (and, very importantly, publishable) stories, proving that disparate approaches can and do have successful outcomes. Any of you who are aspiring authors, take note! There is no one right way to craft a novel (nor is there one right kind of novel to craft). The important thing is to discover what works for you.
Hmm…for that matter, the same is true about relationships, occupations–and my personal favorite, popcorn toppings! (Browned butter, sea salt, and grated parm, thanks very much.)
I know I’ll never be an outliner, which means that each time I sign a contract, both my publisher and I will be making a leap of faith. Considering how quiet and solitary the writing life tends to be, this brings a bit of mostly welcome suspense and excitement to my life!
However I go about it, my goal is to always provide readers with a full, engrossing, compelling, satisfying read, and I invite you to get in touch with me after you’ve read my books and let me know how well I’m doing my job. You, the readers, are the ultimate judges.
My thanks again to Diane for having me here, and warmest wishes to all of you!